Category Archives: Referees in the Middle

Referees in the Middle: Paul Durkin

Premier League Career: 1992-2004

First Premier League Match: Arsenal 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday (28 August 1992)

Final Premier League Match: Arsenal 2-1 Leicester City (15 May 2004)

Paul Durkin was one of the most respected referees in the Premier League and also one of the best. He spent 12 seasons in the middle, beginning and finishing his Premier League career ironically at the same ground, Highbury.

Hailing from the Isle of Portland in Dorset, Durkin refereed 242 games across 12 campaigns, showing 595 yellow cards and dishing out 29 red cards during his career.

1997-1998 was Durkin’s best season. His consistent performances ultimately saw him chosen for the ultimate pinnacle in football, the World Cup.  Early in the season, he took charge of a tempestuous match between Bolton Wanderers and Manchester United. In the 34th minute, Bolton’s Nathan Blake and Gary Pallister of United started to trade punches with each other. What happened next was something more akin to be seen at a rugby match. A 21-man brawl followed with only Bolton goalkeeper Keith Branagan staying out of the melee. Durkin kept his composure and sent off Blake and Pallister for starting the incident in the first place.

A month later, Durkin was at the centre of another flashpoint when he was physically pushed by French midfielder Emmanuel Petit of Arsenal during a goalless draw with Aston Villa. Again, he didn’t produce any dramatics and simply flashed the red card at Petit, who was subsequently banned for three matches.

Often called up to the big matches, Durkin had the honour of taking charge of the 1998 FA Cup final between Arsenal and Newcastle United. He also refereed the 2003 League Cup final involving Liverpool FC and Manchester United. In 2004, he did a rare thing for referees and faced the television cameras after a 0-0 stalemate at Old Trafford when Manchester United played Newcastle United.

Both teams had debatable moments in the match and Durkin admitted he’d been wrong not to award Newcastle a penalty when Alan Shearer was tripped by Tim Howard.

He told Sky Sports: “If I had seen the incident, clearly I would have given it. I was expecting the ball to be playing up field, so I was a long way off when it happened and I wasn’t certain there had been any contact. It’s disappointing because you like to get the big decisions right but you only get a split-second. I looked at it again on TV and Newcastle can count themselves unfortunate.”

Durkin’s final match was the historic game at Highbury when Arsenal completed an unbeaten season in 2003-2004 with victory over Leicester City. After appearing on the short-lived ITV gameshow Simply the Best as a referee, Durkin now works as a referee assessor for the FA.

Honest, straight-talking and widely respected within many quarters of the game, Paul Durkin is still considered as one of the best referees across the first quarter of a century in the Premier League.


Referees in the Middle: Peter Jones

Premier League Career: 1994-2002

First Premier League Match: Queens Park Rangers 3-2 Sheffield Wednesday (24 August 1994)

Final Premier League Match: Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Liverpool FC (27 April 2002)

From Loughborough in Leicestershire, Peter Jones spent eight seasons as a Premier League referee. He joined the elite in 1994 after six years developing his knowledge and awareness in the Football League.

In total, Mr Jones took charge of nearly 150 Premier League matches – his first was an entertaining victory for Queens Park Rangers over Sheffield Wednesday in August 1994. Less than a month later, he dished out his first red card and it went to the Chelsea skipper Dennis Wise. Wise used some foul and abusive language towards a linesman in the Blues’ 4-2 defeat to Newcastle United on Tyneside. The linesman reported the incident and Jones had no option but to send Wise from the field of play.

Like many of his peers, Peter was fortunate enough to referee the FA Cup final. His day in the spotlight came at Wembley Stadium in 1999 when Manchester United comfortably beat Newcastle United 2-0 to complete the second part of their famous treble success. Jones was also chosen to handle the 1997 FA Charity Shield and the 1998 League Cup final.

1998-1999 was his most dramatic season. In September 1998, he oversaw a dramatic match between Blackburn Rovers and Chelsea at Ewood Park. He sent off Graeme Le Saux and Sebastian Perez after a fierce confrontation between the pair and awarded both teams a spot-kick each in Chelsea’s 4-3 win. This was the season where he wouldn’t take any tolerance and no fewer than 74 yellow cards were thrust in the direction of players.

In the FA Cup that season, he was the official during a controversial fifth round encounter involving Arsenal and Sheffield United at Highbury. The match was heading for a replay when a Sheffield United player went down injured. The ball was kicked out of play to allow treatment and whilst it was expected possession would be returned to the Blades’, Arsenal forward Kanu thought otherwise. He ran through and played in Marc Overmars to score the winning goal. According to the laws of the game, Jones could not disallow the goal but Arsene Wenger was his savour as he offered the game to be replayed. It was 10 days later which Arsenal won, ironically 2-1.

After his successful 1999, Jones accepted a Masters of Arts Honorary degree from Loughborough University and began to help promote the Scout Survival Skills Badge. His last Premier League match was in April 2002. Gus Poyet scored the only goal as Tottenham Hotspur beat Liverpool FC 1-0 to end the Reds’ championship hopes for that season.

Since then, Jones has been a member of the UEFA Referees’ Observers Panel and has brought his whistle out of retirement to officiate in the six-a-side Masters Football tournaments that ran from 2003 to 2011.

Referees in the Middle: Keith Stroud

Premier League Career: 2007-2009, 2015-

First Premier League Match: Blackburn Rovers 2-0 Sunderland (15 February 2006)

Last Premier League Match (To-date): Watford 2-0 West Ham United (31 October 2015)

Hampshire resident Keith Stroud has only taken charge of 17 Premier League matches in his career. Like Stuart Attwell, Stroud will be hoping to follow his path and make his way back to the Select Group of Referees who take charge of officiating top-flight matches.

Luton Town supporter Stroud first took up refereeing in 1988 and was promoted from the non-league to the National List 16 years later. In that time, he had experience as an assistant referee at the 2002 Division Three playoff final between Cheltenham Town and Rushden & Diamonds. He also was an assistant in the 2003 FA Cup final which was refereed by Graham Barber when Arsenal defeated Southampton 1-0.

Stroud’s first match outside of Conference Football was in August 2004; a League Two encounter between Cheltenham Town and Scunthorpe United at Whaddon Road. After controlling several playoff matches in the Football League, he was given the opportunity to officiate in the top-flight. His first game was in February 2006 when Blackburn Rovers beat Sunderland 2-0 at Ewood Park. The most games Stroud has done in a Premier League season was seven in the 2007-2008 season.

In 2009, it was confirmed that Stroud along with Steve Tanner had been dropped from the Select Group of officials. However, he appealed his case with support from the workers’ union, Unison. It was found out that monthly reviews on the pair’s performances had not been carried out. Therefore, their exclusions had been flawed.

Since then though, Stroud has only taken charge of three top-flight matches. His last game was in October 2015, handing out his first Premier League red card to West Ham’s James Collins in the match away to Watford.

Has Keith Stroud already had the final whistle on his Premier League career? He is still in the Football League today and has got to keep working hard. His opportunity might arise again sometime soon.

Referees in the Middle: Graham Poll

Premier League Career: 1993-2007

First Premier League Match: Southampton 3-3 Sheffield United (2 October 1993)

Final Premier League Match: Portsmouth 0-0 Arsenal (13 May 2007)

Few referees’ past and present have had the impact Graham Poll did. He is one of the most iconic referees the Premier League has ever seen. Graham took charge of a number of the top clashes in the top-flight, including some tasty confrontations between Manchester United and Arsenal. His career spanned 1544 matches over 26 years and is considered among the best. Sadly for Graham, a fateful error of judgement in Stuttgart during the 2006 World Cup seems to be his lasting legacy.

Born in 1963, Poll took up the challenge of refereeing when he was just 17. He quickly progressed through the ranks and became a Premier League referee in time for the 1993-1994 season. His first of 330 Premier League games was a belting match between struggling Southampton and Sheffield United at the Dell. Mr Poll wouldn’t get a quiet debut. He sent off Sheffield United’s David Tuttle for two yellow cards and witnessed a great comeback by the visitors’ from 3-1 down to rescue a 3-3 draw.

As his career spanned 14 Premier League seasons, Graham’s red card tally is quite high – 64 in total, an average of 5.1 red cards per season. Here are some of his most famous dismissals;

  • Vinnie Jones and David Lowe were both sent off after the pair decided to start a boxing bout during a match between Wimbledon and Leicester City in September 1994.
  • Paul Heald was given his marching orders at St James’ Park in October 1995. With all three substitutes on and the goalie dismissed, Vinnie Jones finished the match in-goal for Wimbledon. They lost 6-1 to Newcastle United.
  • During the draw between Manchester United and Liverpool FC in April 1998, he sent Michael Owen off for a late tackle on Peter Schmeichel. It was his first dismissal of his professional career.
  • In a clash between Sunderland and Manchester United in January 2001, Poll produced three red cards. Sunderland’s Alex Rae and Andy Cole of Manchester United were dismissed for a head-to-head confrontation.
  • Controversial and slightly harsh red cards were dished out to Ray Parlour and Craig Bellamy in the Arsenal vs. Newcastle United contest at Highbury in December 2001. Thierry Henry was so unhappy with Poll’s performance, he tried to confront him at full-time and had to be restrained by Alan Shearer and Arsenal’s coaching team.
  • In Chelsea’s first-ever Premier League defeat in November 2006 to Tottenham Hotspur, England captain John Terry was sent off for a clash with Ledley King. Jose Mourinho expressed his disapproval in his post-match interview.

One of his most regretful Premier League moments came in the closing seconds of a Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park in April 2000. With the score at 0-0, Liverpool FC goalkeeper Sander Westerveld kicked the ball at Don Hutchinson’s back. The ball span into the empty net but Everton were denied by a claim made by Poll that he had already blown his whistle to signal full-time. Television replays later proved this was incorrect and Poll admitted his error in judgement on the eve of his retirement in 2007.

On an international scale, Graham Poll was widely-respected. He was the English representative at EURO 2000, World Cup 2002 and World Cup 2006. He was also chosen to take charge of the 2005 UEFA Cup final between Sporting Lisbon and CSKA Moscow in Lisbon. However, it all went wrong for him in Stuttgart’s Mercedes-Benz Arena during a group stage match at the 2006 World Cup finals.

Croatia were playing Australia and the Europeans needed to win to stand any chance of progressing for the knockout rounds. A draw would be good enough for the Socceroos. It was a tough match to referee and Poll’s performance was pretty good for much of the match. He correctly sent off two players and gave Australia a rightful penalty in the 2-2 draw. Unfortunately, he booked Josip Simunic of Croatia on the hour mark and failed to record this in his notebook. When Simunic made another blatant foul in the closing seconds of normal time, Poll showed another yellow card in the defender’s direction, which should have spelt his dismissal from the match. However, the red card didn’t arrive and he continued to play on. Commentators had spotted this but not the man who many felt had a decent chance of landing the World Cup final. As the final whistle was blown, Simunic’s petty arguments continued and he said too much. Graham thrust another yellow card (Simunic’s third of the match) and finally showed him the red card. It was an absolute nightmare. He was told of the error around 15 minutes after the full-time whistle. He knew his tournament was over.

He did one more season of domestic and European club football but was constantly reminded of his summer faux-pas up-and-down the country. The spark had gone and during the 2006-2007 season, Graham Poll decided to retire at the end of the season. His final Premier League match was a goalless draw on the final day between Portsmouth and Arsenal. In this game, he correctly ruled out a Niko Kranjcar goal for offside. If the goal had stood though, Pompey would have qualified for the UEFA Cup.

Four months after his retirement, Poll released his autobiography entitled “Seeing Red.” He now works in the media, doing a regular column for the Daily Mail and has also dedicated some of his spare time to charity work including running the 2008 London Marathon.

His career might have not finished right at the top but Graham Poll made a significant impact on refereeing in this country for several seasons, earning plenty of respect along the way from players, pundits and managers. It is unfortunate that he is remembered more prominently for his mistake at a World Cup rather than the lessons he would later give to younger referees coming through the ranks.

Referees in the Middle: Mike Dean

Premier League Career: 2000-

First Premier League Match: Leicester City 1-0 Southampton (9 September 2000)

From the Wirral, Mike Dean will be entering his 18th season as a Premier League referee in 2017-2018. His presence in many of the big games and longevity must be praised, even though he is a ref who doesn’t give many chances to players and like dishing out cards – sometimes unnecessarily.

He began refereeing back in 1985 and after three seasons in the Football League, was appointed to the Select Group of officials in 2000. His first Premier League game was an uneventful match involving Leicester City and Southampton in September 2000 which the Foxes’ won 1-0.

In total, Mr Dean has taken charge of 429 Premier League matches, flashed out his yellow card a whopping 1545 times and sent off players on 42 occasions. In the 25th season, he sent off five players including two from Sunderland and Nathan Redmond of Southampton. In January 2017, he gave West Ham’s Sofiane Feghouli a highly controversial red card against Manchester United, even though the challenge didn’t look reckless. Many accused Dean of falling for Phil Jones’ exaggerated reaction after the Algerian’s challenge. He later missed a blatant offside for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal which sealed a 2-0 Manchester United victory at the London Stadium. It is fair to say, this was a poor evening at the office for Dean.

However, he does show humour too and in November 2015, produced a light-hearted moment in the wake of Tottenham Hotspur’s opening goal of their 3-1 win at home to Aston Villa. After allowing a fine advantage early in the move, Mousa Dembele tucked away the first goal of the evening. Dean’s reaction was to show off his dancing, discotheque move which attracted plenty of humour from social media followers and professional pundits.

Mike Dean is one of the Premier League’s highly-respected officials and is held in high regard by many of his fellow peers. Therefore, it is no surprise that although he divides a range of opinions from fans across the country, he does get a fair share of the elite matches in any season. He has been in charge of an FA Cup final in his career back in 2008 as well as Birmingham City’s shock 2011 League Cup final success over Arsenal and three Championship playoff finals.

Expect Mike Dean to be at every ground at some point over the 2017-2018 campaign. With his high penalty percentage award record, don’t be surprised if you will like and loathe his decisions over the course of the next year.

Referees in the Middle: Keith Hackett

Premier League Career: 1992-1994

First Premier League Match: Ipswich Town 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur (30 August 1992)

Final Premier League Match: Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool FC (30 March 1994)

The majority of Keith Hackett’s career was before the introduction of the FA Premier League but even though he had reached the planned retirement age before the reformation in English football, his exemption onto the list for the inaugural season showed how well-respected he was.

Hackett’s record is right up there with the best in the business. In a list maintained by the IFFHS (International Federation of Football History and Statistics), Hackett is within the top 100 referees. When he retired in April 1994, he had been refereeing for over 34 years.

Like many of his peers, Hackett began in the local leagues in 1960, taking charge of games across Yorkshire. He became a Football League linesman in 1972 and four years later, had progressed to the full list of officials. He was just 32 years old when this milestone was achieved.

His best period was the 1980s. He was one of the youngest referees to ever have the privilege of officiating at the FA Cup final which was in those days, the ultimate domestic honour in English club football. Hackett’s year for the showpiece was the 1981 classic between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City which finished 1-1 before the Ricky Villa magic in the replay days later.

Three years later, he was back at Wembley to do the all-Merseyside Charity Shield when a Bruce Grobbelaar own goal meant Everton beat Liverpool FC. The domestic set was complete when he got the 1986 League Cup final as Oxford United won their only knockout trophy, defeating Queens Park Rangers 3-0.

In 1988, Hackett was the English choice of official at the 1988 European Championships in West Germany. He took control of the hosts’ 1-1 draw with Italy during the group stages which was played in Cologne. Later that summer, he went to the Olympic Games to officiate in the football competition in Seoul, South Korea. Again, he looked after a West German match, this time the semi-final with Brazil which ended 1-1 but saw the South Americans win on penalties.

In October 1990, he had to deal with one of the toughest incidents of his or anyone’s career when a 21-man brawl broke out at Old Trafford during a league clash involving Manchester United and Arsenal. Hackett and his match officials handled a tricky situation with stern punishments for both clubs. After consultations between them and the FA, Manchester United were docked one point and deducted two points from Arsenal’s total. The Gunners’ still won the league championship.

When the Premier League began, the new league could trust on Keith Hackett’s judgement and control. He took charge of 36 Premier League matches, handed out just 38 yellow cards and didn’t dismiss a single player. In that period, he only awarded three penalties and two of those were in one match when Oldham Athletic lost 4-1 to Tottenham in the inaugural season. He retired just short of his 50th birthday in 1994 with his last match in the middle being a blockbuster encounter between Manchester United and Liverpool FC. United won the midweek match 1-0 with Paul Ince scoring the only goal.

After retiring from officiating, Hackett became a referees’ assessor and in March 2004, he replaced Philip Don to be appointed General Manager of the PGMOB (Professional Game Match Officials Board). His knowledge has also come through in publishing through books, cartoon quizzes and columns for the Observer and the Daily Telegraph.

He is honest enough in his assessments too. At the end of the 2016-2017 campaign, he stated in a strong article that the likes of Jon Moss, Kevin Friend and Roger East shouldn’t be retained on the current elite list.

Keith Hackett is still a strong voice in the game and he won’t hold back either. People listen to his frank and honest assessments nowadays, just like they did when he was controlling football matches in the middle.

Referees in the Middle: Steve Bennett

Premier League Career: 1999-2010

First Premier League Match: Derby County 1-3 Middlesbrough (14 August 1999)

Final Premier League Match: Aston Villa 0-1 Blackburn Rovers (9 May 2010)

Steve Bennett spent over 25 years in the middle and achieved some high-profile milestones during his career. He was a no-nonsense referee who would always stick to the strict rules but was also a referee who did his best to not be the centre of attention.

After starting out in the regional, local and non-leagues, Bennett began refereeing in the Football League in 1995. Four years later, he made the jump into the top-flight. His first match was Middlesbrough’s 3-1 away win at Derby County in August 1999.

One of his early appointments in his Premier League career was an ill-disciplined match involving Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United in January 2001. It is rare to see three red cards in the same match but that is what happened at White Hart Lane. Neil Sullivan, Nolberto Solano and Kieron Dyer were all sent for an early shower by Bennett as Tottenham won 4-2.

Mr Bennett has refereed in other tricky situations. In 2004, Tim Cahill scored the only goal of the game at the City of Manchester Stadium (as it was known then) to win all three points for Everton. It was the Aussie’s first goal for his new club and he celebrated by baring his chest to his new supporters. However, this counted as a bookable offence in the eyes of Bennett and having cautioned Cahill earlier, promptly sent him off. The decision left David Moyes speechless and drew criticism from top FIFA officials.

Four years later, he was involved in another flashpoint incident involving a Merseyside club. Manchester United were playing Liverpool FC at Old Trafford when Javier Mascherano was dismissed for constant protesting and arguing with Bennett. The Argentine completely lost his discipline and started using expletive language towards the official. Only the intervention of his teammates and manager Rafa Benitez stopped the matter escalating further. Mascherano later apologised for his actions and admitted his behaviour was “inappropriate.” After this incident, a daily newspaper launched a ‘Shut It’ campaign, which was started to urge footballers to respect the referee and curb their argumentative behaviour.

Steve Bennett was lucky enough to referee the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley when Didier Drogba scored the only goal of a disappointing contest between Chelsea and Manchester United in 2007. He was a lucky omen for the men from west London, also refereeing the 2005 League Cup final in Cardiff against Liverpool FC. The 3-2 victory was Jose Mourinho’s first piece of silverware in English football.

In July 2010, two months after taking control of a final day match between Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers, Bennett retired from the frontline and is now a full-time coach, passing on his wise methods onto the younger generation of officials.

Referees in the Middle: Stuart Attwell

Premier League Career: 2008-2010, 2016-

First Premier League Match: Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Hull City (23 August 2008)

Nuneaton-born referee Stuart Attwell has worked hard throughout his refereeing career and is now among the Premier League referees list for a second time after a spell back in the Football League.

Starting out in the non-league ranks, Attwell’s first Football League appointment came in 2007 for a fixture in League Two between Hereford United and Rotherham United.

His first full Football League campaign impressed many of his peers and observers and at the age of 25, he became the youngest-ever official to referee a Premier League match when Blackburn Rovers drew 1-1 with newly-promoted Hull City in August 2008. This record has since been broken by Michael Oliver but it was a great accomplishment in such a short space of time.

A year later, he was added to the international referees’ roster and has taken charge of international friendlies, UEFA Champions League qualifiers and a group stage game involving Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Europa League.

Controversy has followed Attwell around occasionally – as it has for many referees over the years. In 2008, he and one of his assistants gave Reading an infamous “ghost goal” in a Championship match at Vicarage Road against Watford. His linesman on the day, Nigel Bannister mistakenly flagged for a Reading goal when he should have given a corner kick only. The bizarre incident left him off-duty for the following weekend.

In September 2010, another strange incident occurred in a Premier League game between Liverpool FC and Sunderland. Sunderland had a defensive free-kick which Michael Turner rolled back to Simon Mignolet. Believing the Black Cats had taken the free-kick; an instinctive Fernando Torres ran onto the loose ball, stopped to check with the officials that it was okay to play on and then rolled the ball into Dirk Kuyt’s path for an easy tap-in. The goal was given, much to the condemnation of the Sunderland players and management.

In February 2012, Attwell was dropped from the Select Group list. Mike Riley admitted: “Throughout his career in the Select Group, Stuart has demonstrated great courage and mental strength in responding to the challenges that he has faced. Stuart has a high level of maturity and responsibility and I’m convinced that he has a long-term future as a referee at the very highest level.”

His last Premier League appointment was a New Years’ Day 2012 encounter between West Bromwich Albion and Everton and was seen as a strange decision for the change to happen mid-season. Stuart wouldn’t referee another top-flight match until November 2014 when the Baggies’ won a fixture away at Leicester City.

Sporadic Premier League appointments would follow but Attwell’s hard work was rewarded with a return to the Select Group list in time for the 2016-2017 campaign. His return came for Hull’s 2-0 win at Swansea City in August 2016; their only away Premier League success of the season. Attwell would referee another 10 top-flight games during the season. Still in his mid-30s and nearly 80 matches under his belt, he looks set to fulfil what Riley said about him and have a long-term future as a man in the middle at the highest level.

Referees in the Middle: Paul Alcock

Premier League Career: 1995-2000

First Premier League Match: Coventry City 2-1 Manchester City (23 August 1995)

Final Premier League Match: Liverpool FC 0-0 Southampton (7 May 2000)

Born in 1953, Paul Alcock spent over 20 years in professional football and was a Premier League referee from 1995-2000.

Originally from Surrey, Alcock became a linesman in the Football League in 1982 and spent six seasons running the line at many English grounds. He joined the Premier League referee list in 1995 and his first game in charge was on the first midweek round of fixtures in the 1995/1996 season. Dion Dublin scored a late header in Coventry City’s 2-1 win over Manchester City at Highfield Road.

He is most famously known for a dramatic incident in a match at Hillsborough between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal in September 1998. The trouble began a minute before half-time when Patrick Vieira reacted angrily to a sly challenge from Petter Rudi. Paolo di Canio got involved and as players from both sides attempted to break things up, di Canio kicked out at Martin Keown.

This was spotted by Alcock who sent the charismatic Italian off. Di Canio’s response was to thrust his hands into Alcock’s chest and push him to the ground in a complete moment of madness. He was then involved in a further confrontation with Nigel Winterburn before being ushered from the field of play. Sheffield Wednesday suspended their maverick almost immediately.

At an FA hearing a month later, Di Canio was banned for 11 matches and fined £10,000. Alcock considered quitting the game after the incident and he wasn’t happy with the punishment, saying: “I am concerned that the message being sent out by the FA can be interpreted as being lenient.”

Alcock continued refereeing in the Premier League until May 2000 before dropping back into the Football League for two seasons. His final match was a Division One game between Norwich City and Stockport County in 2002.

After hanging up his whistle, Alcock went into the retail industry, becoming the shopping centre manager of the Malls Chequers in Maidstone. He retired from that role in 2014 and has also held roles with the Maidstone Leisure Trust, along with still being a football referee assessor in the Championship.

In March 2017, he admitted in a newspaper interview that he was battling cancer for a third time. Initially diagnosed in 2015, I would like to wish him well in his battle to beat the cruel disease once more.